A MENTOR of Blessing Muzarabani says the Zimbabwe fast bowler has returned to international cricket a more lethal weapon following his two-year stint on the English county circuit.
Muzarabani starred with the ball as Zimbabwe beat Pakistan in a Super-Over thriller on Tuesday to avoid a whitewash defeat in the three-match ODI series in Rawalpindi.
The 24-year-old right-armer, who is playing for Zimbabwe for the first time since putting his international career on hold in 2018 after striking a deal with Northamptonshire, bowled with admirable control and pace to take 5-49 in the regular match.
Muzarabani then bagged two Super-Over wickets to guide the African tourists to victory with three balls to spare.
In the third and last ODI on Tuesday, Muzarabani accounted for Pakistan star batsman and captain Babar Azam, the hosts’ dangerman who he had also dismissed in the first ODI which the Asians giants won by 26 runs last week.
“He (Babar Azam) is one of the top batsmen in the world,” British coach and former club player Winston Weeks told The NewsHawks from the UK. “To get him twice is brilliant. That tells you a lot about how far Blessing has come.”
Barbados-born Weeks, who played and coached league cricket in Zimbabwe in the 1980s, was a central figure in Muzarabani’s move to county cricket in 2018 after the tall speedster from Harare had dazzled in his early international career.
Although he had a hand in briefly depriving Zimbabwe of its brightest cricketing prospect at that time, Weeks—who professes an undying affection for the Southern African nation—vowed two years ago that Muzarabani would return to the country an even better player.
Going by early indications, he has been proven correct, and Weeks believes Muzarabani has been afforded the same sort of grooming as some of world cricket’s finest players of all time.
“The most important thing for Blessing was to learn how to be a professional, how to handle himself as a professional,” Weeks said. “This goes back into history. All the greats started in county cricket. Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Viv Richards, David Hussey—they all learned in county cricket.”
Muzarabani finished with nine wickets in the three ODI series, which Pakistan won 2-1, but his man-of-the-match performance in the last match particularly left his mentor in awe.
“I thought he bowled well, especially upfront,” said Weeks. “He put pressure on the top batsmen. He is someone who can bowl at pace, putting the fear factor into the opposition. In any team, you need firepower, ruffling up a few feathers. That’s what Blessing brings to the table. If Blessing bowls a disciplined line outside the off-stump, he will get good players out. If you look at yesterday (Tuesday), when he bowled at the left-handed batsman (Khushdil Shah), he bowled a line outside the off-stump, he (Shah) got the edge and it went to the wicketkeeper. The same thing with the Pakistan captain (Babar Azam), he bowled outside the line of the off-stump and, guess what, he nicked it to the ’keeper. So that disciplined line is the most important thing outside of the off-stump. Don’t bowl on the Pakistan batsmen’s pads, because they are very good at flicking the ball with their wrists. So you must bowl a disciplined line outside the off-stump to them. That’s where you are in the game, a disciplined line outside off-stump. Make them play.”
Muzarabani left the UK with a year still left on his original Northamptonshire contract after Britain’s exit from the European Union, a development that rendered Kolpak players like the Zimbabwean paceman ineligible to stay on in the county championship due to changed rules under Brexit.
Weeks, though, says Muzarabani is delighted to be back in Zimbabwe colours despite the premature county exit.
“He loves his country,” remarked Weeks. “Zimbabwe is number one priority to him, Zim comes first to him. He is happy right now. God works in mysterious ways. If he (Muzarabani) had completed the third year of his contract with Northamptonshire, he would not have been in Pakistan right now, playing well as he is doing.”
Weeks also commented on the positive impact that Muzarabani has had on his Zimbabwe teammates since his return to the international fold.
“The lads love to have him back, that’s the most important thing,” Weeks said. “He’s a good boy, everyone loves him. He’s come back a better product for Zimbabwe, and everybody appreciates that. You can see how happy (wicketkeeper Brendan) Taylor is when he takes a catch off him. That’s something you cannot buy. Because Taylor is important, and so is (Sean) Williams. They stand up in the big games. So with Blessing back and playing well, everyone is glad to have him back.”